Police officers under fire

Increasingly, law enforcement is being targeted by domestic extremist groups

April 09, 2010|By Madeleine Gruen

This month in Washtenaw County, Mich., a right-wing militia called the Hutaree was raided by state and local police and FBI agents. Nine militia members were arrested and charged with conspiring to murder a police officer then attack that officer's funeral with improvised explosive devices. This was to be the first step in the Hutaree's plot to overthrow the U.S. government.

The Hutaree is only one among a number of separatist, terrorist and hate groups that view police as their No. 1 target for attack. The threat to police officers' personal safety is a growing problem that police departments are required to manage — on top of their responsibilities for maintaining civil order and public safety and helping to detect and disrupt terrorist threats.

To make matters even more complex, massive budget cuts are forcing police departments to eliminate officers and sometimes to do without essential training and resources. This set of conditions raises a serious concern that departments may not be able to continue holding back the rising threat.

The Hutaree arrests shined a spotlight on the danger to law enforcement presented by groups that seek to wage war against the U.S. government. The Hutaree regularly trained in the woods with live ammunition and believed it was ready for a showdown with police. The Hutaree anticipated that the police would be defeated, demoralized and rendered ineffective following the bloody confrontation at the police funeral.

Michigan police were also the target of another fringe group's violent ambitions in October. The Ummah is a nationwide Islamist movement whose spiritual mentor is convicted cop-killer Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly known as H. Rap Brown). The movement's Detroit branch was led by Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who intended for his group to establish a separate Islamic state in the United States by waging "offensive jihad" against the government. Mr. Abdullah was obsessed with killing cops and instructed his followers, many of whom were convicted felons, to carry guns so that they could shoot officers rather than be arrested by them, telling them gleefully to "Shoot cops in the head! Pop, pop."

Mr. Abdullah and many of his closest followers were allegedly involved in gun-running and the buying and selling of stolen goods. On Oct. 28, Mr. Abdullah was shot and killed in a gunfight during a raid that was conducted jointly by state and local police and the FBI.

Recently, in Hemet City, Calif., the Vagos biker gang has been attacking the local police department in retaliation for the department's recent crackdown on the gang's drug sales and other criminal activity. Since December, police have found explosive devices strapped under their vehicles and guns rigged to shoot officers as they open doors. An attempt was made to kill officers by rerouting a natural gas pipeline to spew fumes into their base. The department has since built a barricade around its headquarters to protect against grenade or other types of attacks perpetrated by the 600-member-strong gang.

Last year, the Hemet police department was forced to lay off a quarter of its officers due to budget cuts. They are currently fighting crime and managing the attacks directed at them with only 68 officers. Over the past decade, the population of Hemet has doubled to more than 100,000 residents.

In the next few months, according to budget proposals released by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore may be forced to lose as many as 200 officers, and the city faces possible elimination of its helicopter, marine and mounted units. These units are critical to the department's efforts to secure Baltimore's harbor, facilitate the pursuit of criminals and control riots. Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said it would take 10 years for the city to recover from the setbacks caused by the proposed cuts.

The Illinois State Police will have to cut 460 troopers, and Georgia will have to do away with some critical training for new recruits. Michigan, despite its growing problems with the likes of the Hutaree and the Ummah, has already lost 4,000 police officers in the past decade and will be forced to cut a few hundred more. The list goes on.

Tom Metzger, a veteran of the white racist movement and founder of the White Aryan Resistance, says that the declining economy and evidence of weakening governance create an opportunity for his movement and other anti-government groups to gain support. Ultimately, Mr. Metzger predicts, the system will tip in the favor of anti-government extremist movements.

In an effort to soften the playing field in their favor, terrorist, separatist and hate groups will continue targeting police. These groups view dwindling police resources, and the declining economy in general, as an opportunity to improve their own strategic positions. This means police may be increasingly forced to concentrate their dwindling resources on fighting the threat created by these groups. Meanwhile, public security will be compromised.

Madeleine Gruen is a senior analyst for the NEFA Foundation, which researches, analyzes and disseminates information pertaining to terrorist events. Previously, she served as an intelligence analyst with the New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Division. Her e-mail is mgruen@nefafoundation.org.

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